Current Events –
The historically black Bethune-Cookman University is under fire today for its choice of commencement day speaker and guest.
The NAACP is calling for the resignation of university president Edison O. Jackson, after he invited Donald Trump flunky, Omarosa Manigault, to sit on the dais, and embattled Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to be the 2017 commencement speaker.
Last week, Bethune-Cookman graduates entered the auditorium smiling, listening to the ceremony politely, and elated to be celebrating their special day — that is until Edison Jackson introduced Omarosa Manigault. Students began booing, prompting Jackson to stop the ceremony and scold the students.
“You don’t know her. You don’t know her story,” he yelled.
Next up was Secretary DeVos, who is on record for making disparaging remarks about historically black colleges. As she began to speak, students again started to boo. Many graduates stood up and turned their backs to DeVos in a clear message that they were not at all interested in whatever she came to say.
Once again, Jackson halted the ceremony to scold the graduates.
“If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you,” Jackson warned. “Choose which way you want to go.”
Now, the decision by Bethune-Cookman to invite Donald Trump surrogates to the graduation ceremony, combined with Jackson’s admonishment to the students to be silent has created a firestorm of controversy and has prompted the NAACP to weigh in.
“I was in shock,” said graduating student Jasmine Johnson regarding her reaction to the news of DeVos as commencement speaker. Her disdain is rooted in the belief that DeVos does not understand or respect public schools and historically black colleges.
“For someone to come and speak at my commencement that cannot relate to me or know what I have been through is kind of like a slap in the face,” Johnson said.
#BlackLivesMatter: Graduating students turn their back on Betsy Devos when she started her commencement speech pic.twitter.com/nAfiYJhfjm
— Muhammad (@330Kingish) May 11, 2017
Donjele Simpson, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, was one of the many students who kept their backs turned on DeVos for the duration of her speech.
“She made racist comments about HBCUs, she doesn’t know anything about us, and she has the nerve to come down here and speak to us,” Simpson said. “And then she has the nerve to speak about Mary McLeod Bethune’s legacy. What does she know about that?”
The NAACP is now insisting that Edison Jackson should resign for not only inviting the unwelcomed guests to the ceremony, but for attempting to threaten the students into silencing their freedom of speech.
Adora Obi Nweze, the NAACP Florida State Conference president, said in a written statement that the DeVos invitation was an insult to minorities, women and all communities of color. Those sentiments were echoed by a national teachers’ union.
“The kids have worked really hard at a historically black college without the resources they need to get an education in a school that was created because of segregation and discrimination,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Those of us who are neither students nor alums are just a megaphone” for that message, she added.
For his part, the Bethune-Cookman president pushed back against the criticism, saying that although he respects the right of his critics to disagree, he believes the university was lucky to have DeVos as their speaker.
“Can you imagine how many institutions would love to have the secretary of education, the highest education officer in the land, be their commencement speaker? Can you imagine the doors this could open?” Jackson said.
Needless to say, not everyone shared his opinion:
Betsy Devos is the living embodiment of the obstacles those kids at an HBCU had to overcome to receive their degree.
— B.I.G.K.E.V. (@indiKEV) May 10, 2017
Students booing Betsy DeVos bc she’s an advocate of school choice ironically illustrates why better education is needed in the first place.
— Righteous⚡Crusader (@Craftmastah) May 10, 2017
@bethunecookman Totally unacceptable. My son WAS going to apply to BCU in a few months. Not now.
— Brianna Johnson (@uscbree) May 2, 2017